In the first arc of Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade, the young Sacaean nomad Lyn overcomes prejudice and grief on her journey to rescue her royal grandfather from a usurper. But by the second arc, she takes a backseat to the nobles Eliwood and Hector as she assists them on a mission to save the nation from war and dark magic. Lyn's inspiring struggle as a woman and minority is undermined as a mere plot device when the narrative centers her elite companions, exposing an all too familiar pattern of denying marginalized perspectives in storytelling. As she is thrust into a supporting role, her ambitions and frustrations are all but ignored.
Living by herself in the plains of Sacae, Lyn suggests joining us in our travels after defeating a pair of bandits together. When we ask if she should let her parents know, she reluctantly explains that they and the rest of her tribe were killed just months ago. With their deaths still fresh in her mind, she vows to avenge them, and insists that she will not become stronger alone, hence her request. And thus, her journey begins.
Lyn's pride in her family and loneliness since her loss inspire key moments throughout the story. When a noble offering assistance denigrates Lyn's Sacaean heritage, she refuses his help. When she meets her bedridden grandfather, the two are brought to tears as they realize that they have family yet. Throughout her journey, Lyn overcomes the obstacles placed before her as a Sacaean and moves on from her heartbreak. The background we learn about her weaves seamlessly into her adventure rather than becoming exposition that exists in vacuum.
But this clarity is lost when we're reunited in the second arc. Lyn joins Eliwood and Hector on their journey after they rescue her grandfather from yet another usurper. While her willingness to return the favor is understandable, her decision to leave behind her only family is puzzling after we spent the first few hours of the game fighting alongside her to reach him. Without reflecting her experiences into the story, Lyn's motivation feels vague – we're all but told to accept that she will unquestioningly support a pair of noblemen she barely knows.
We are soon reminded that the story no longer centers Lyn, even though she appears in every scene the others do. When Eliwood and Hector try to procure a ship, they make a deal with a pirate armada, clearly to Lyn's dismay as she storms off in frustration. But rather than go reason with her, Eliwood matter-of-factly explains to a baffled Hector that such men had killed her family, and then moves on to plan how they'll raise the ship's fee without her. They easily brush off her trauma in deference to their mission.
Lyn and everyone around her seem tacitly aware of her perfunctory role, all the way to the end. Before their last battle, she receives the weapon Sol Katti from the sage Athos, who goes out of his way to mention that it is not of the same legendary caliber as Eliwood and Hector's gifts. And when fighting the game's penultimate villain – who doesn't even recognize her by name – she proclaims, "The nomads of the plains do not abandon their fellow tribespeople. Eliwood and Hector are my dear friends. Their sorrow is my sorrow. Their anger is my anger." Even now, she doesn't tell us why she had set out on this journey in the first place, before she knew Eliwood or Hector well enough to call either one friend.
During the few occasions that Lyn contributes to the plot's progression, she is also tokenized for her heritage. When a Sacaean man ambushes the group through a thick fog, he decides to meet them in a fair fight upon realizing that a fellow Sacaean is among them. Later when the group tails an army through the snow, Lyn leads the way, remarking that tracking footsteps is trivial for a Sacaean hunter. Rather than one aspect of her identity, her background becomes her single contribution – another tool like a sword or axe that her noble companions get to use on their journey.
We know what a plot that respects Lyn's agency looks like as we need only play the first few hours of the game. A story that properly explores Lyn's experiences alongside Eliwood and Hector's is no doubt filled with tension – after all, two noblemen would know little about being a Sacaean woman. But the plot avoids creating opportunities for meaningful interaction through which the two young men could learn how starkly their lives differ from hers. Unfortunately, as Lyn adapts to their sensibilities instead, such negligence inevitably comes at her expense.
We face a similar reckoning with our negligence today. Throughout the George Floyd protests and the continued fight against the oppressive structures that comprise our daily lives, many young non-Black and non-Indigenous people of color have awakened to their responsibility to learn more about the struggles of Black people.
But beyond reading seminal texts, watching documentaries, and supporting artists and businesses, it is essential that we also listen to marginalized voices, better than we and our ancestors have – and failed to do – for hundreds of years. If we strive for the inclusivity that we so often preach, we must also be willing to hear how we can improve ourselves, or else we only succeed at performing solidarity at the expense of Black lives.